90 per cent of NASA’s works are collaborative projects, mostly international: Ed Hoffman

Express caught up with Ed Hoffman, former chief knowledge officer at NASA and academic director, Columbia University, who spearheaded the US-based non-profit Project Management Institute.

Published: 16th July 2018 04:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2018 12:53 PM   |  A+A-

NASA. (File photo)

Express News Service

KOCHI: Why do projects, no matter their scale or size, fail to deliver on their promised results or incur prolonged delays? A scenario quite too common in a fast-paced developing country such as India. This is where the concept of ‘project management’ comes to the fore.

Ed Hoffman

Pioneering the field in India is the US-based non-profit Project Management Institute (PMI) with eight chapters here, which through its certification programmes plans on improving the organisational project success rate and mature the profession of project management.

Express caught up with Ed Hoffman, former chief knowledge officer at NASA and academic director, Columbia University, who spearheaded this field by setting up the NASA Academy of Project Management way back in 1986. He was in Kerala to attend the PMI’s annual project management conference - Waves 2018.

Edited excerpts from the interview

Project management is just taking off in India. Do you think the efficiency of people working in projects will change if it is taken up seriously?

I think there is a level of professional commitment that is essential to be efficient. Although I am not familiar with all the projects here, I believe that an effective project management in every organisation will improve the effectiveness of projects. Approaches to build up capability among professionals will add to the development of the country. There is an increased level of scepticism among people when a project takes off... the public will say ‘good’ only when they see results.

What are the top challenges that a project manager faces?
It is a very demanding role. The first challenge is understanding human nature. We have different people in different sectors speaking different languages; by languages, I don’t mean spoken or written words but the way they speak based on what they do. A spirit of respect has to be created between people, which results in a collaborative environment.

The next challenge is disruptive change, especially when it comes to technological changes. The world is changing rapidly and it is sometimes very daunting.
A project leader is also required to understand the issues of people; if you take care of people, they will take care of you. Establishing a relationship with people in a team is another complex task as it is hard to analyse people and know what is going on with them.

Every department at NASA is different. Do you deal with different departments uniquely or is it a collective approach?
I would say it is a collective approach. We have an orchestra of talents from different countries at NASA. Ninety per cent of the works there are collaborative projects, which are mostly international.
Everything NASA does is for science and it teams up with people from all over the world to create scientific explosions. Hence, collaborating effectively and collectively setting up teams play a significant role in the productivity of a system.

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